By Lansana Fofanah.
The President of Sierra Leone, Brigadier (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio on Monday officially launched the Free Quality and Compulsory Education Initiative for five years at the Miatta Conference Center, Youyi Building Freetown.
Launching his flagship program, President Bio said that during his campaign for the Presidency, he pledged to the people of Sierra Leone that he would deliver Free Primary and Secondary School education. But his promise was described by his political detractors as fake and unachievable.
President Bio said that despite inheriting a broken educational system, less than six months in office, he has shown the world and critics that free quality education is possible and will begin on the reopening of schools on the 17th September, 2018.
The free quality education package announced by the President include; free core text books, essential learning materials, no tuition/admission fees from elementary school to senior secondary school and no payment for public examinations such as National Primary School Examination (NPSE), Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
Committing parents to the course, President Bio said that a student can only be given one chance to repeat and if he or she fails, the responsibility then goes to the parent. He said that the Education Act of 2004 made it a punishable crime for any parent who fails to send their children to school and this time such law is going to fully take effect. He said that parents also have a role to play by providing school shoes, transportation for kids to school where necessary and the wellbeing of the children at home.
The President said that he started manifesting his commitment to free education in the Sierra Leone People’s Party Manifesto and also re-echoed it during the State Opening of Parliament, and to show his passion for that, 21% of the country’s Budget has been allocated to education.
Delivering another promise he made, President Bio moved to revert the 6344 system of education to 6334 and informed that, Educational Committee will be set up in all the 154 political chiefdoms in the country to monitor education.
The Chief Minister, Professor David Francis said that President Bio campaigned with a very simple but powerful message-free education- and despite the battered economy within 136 days of governance he has boldly taken the first step to launch such a timely project.
“President Bio sees education as the engine for development and that is why education is now at the center and heart of development. This is the manifestation of the dawn of a new era”, he said.
The Minister of Basic and Secondary School Education, Alpha Timbo said that two million, one hundred and fourteen pupils are going to benefit from the Free Quality Education and already eight thousand schools have been registered.
He called on Sierra Leoneans to embrace the scheme as it can only succeed if the efforts of government are complemented by parents, teachers and pupils.
The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa highlighted the challenges they have overcome through series of consultations with development partners and the Education Ministry and it is a laudable venture to witness the launching of the program.
The occasion was climaxed by the launch of the Multi Donor Free Education Basket Trust Fund by the First Lady, Mrs. Fatima Bio where Government officials made significant pledges.
Bio President Bio pledged three months of his Presidential salary to the free education initiative.
The Vice President, Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh pledged fifty percent of his salary for the next twelve months totaling Le120m to the free education initiative.
Other dignitaries including the Chief Minister, Finance Minister, Basic Education Minister and the Speaker of Parliament also made pledges towards the free education initiative.